Paul on CI

Cher Ben,

We know what we know to be true. And we know that if we don’t do what we know to be true, then we betray our students and ourselves. Students are and have always been the reason we fight when we fight. I do not even do pop-up grammar anymore unless I can do it in 5 seconds or less as I do not want to lose them for 6 seconds, much less 6 weeks. I cannot indulge the one student for a whole minute while the great majority struggle to understand and then feel crappy for having no idea what I was talking about. If I can’t explain it in 5 seconds I tell them to stay after class. They never do.

As for people keeping their jobs – I will not judge but do wonder how long one can last doing something you know is ineffective. Honestly, one might as well get into sales and actually make some money. This job is too difficult to do and still wind up feeling like a fake. And in many ways, lots of textbook teachers are confronted with feeling like fakes, and that is what animates them. I would rather tell them, “You are not preparing your kids for my class. In my class we re-create the real world where making mistakes is completely natural and only remedied by more input, not rules. Your rules make kids feel stupid and inadequate and what’s even worse, they do not work.”

Parents are usually our allies. Most do not have an agenda that is pro-grammar or pro-ci. They want their students to be enjoying class and learning. Period. Which one does a better job? CI makes enormous sense to them when you explain it to them. They WISH they could have learned the way their kids are learning.

I sympathize with the battle fatigue. The irony is that we are working so much harder than the textbook people that there is an imbalance of energy! I do not know that the answer is to getting worn down other than that I am more miserable not fighting than fighting.

One of my classes the other day asked about learning grammar. I told them it is a separate skill and unrelated to communicating at this stage in their learning. The puzzled look on their faces begged for an example. I said, “You are all fluent speakers of English, some from birth, yes? Please, can someone conjugate the verb “to be” for me?” I have a room full of smart sophisticated kids. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. “So, you guys just told me that you that you were fluent speakers of English, and yet you cannot conjugate the verb “to be”. I guess I am mistaken. Apparently your ability to communicate in English is not what I thought it was.”

They laughed. Of course, they wanted me to conjugate the verb. I did so. I could’ve gone on at length about how “be” is a copular verb and not a pseudo-copular verb like become, get, feel or seem. To their good fortune I refrained from impressing them with the gleanings of my graduate level generative grammar class. They said “Ohhh.” “So class, is it possible to speak the language without knowing how to conjugate verbs?” When it is all said and done, lawyers, doctors, scientists and artists all live their lives without being able to recite grammar rules.

A good number of our students will not get to the level of language required for grammar rules to make sense. The overwhelming majority of them will have no desire to continue language study if they are bored and annoyed and feeling inadequate with meaningless rules untethered to a language experience. If and when they do have their mojo working, then it will not be necessary to coerce them into building a monitor.

Fortunately for me – you understand me 100%.

Love, Paul

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